Verizon: We're not interested in CBS

Verizon

Verizon feels no sense of urgency to step up its spending spree in pursuit of building a digital media and advertising empire, according to analysts. But the company is likely to continue to acquire companies in other markets.

The largest mobile network operator in the U.S. has been rumored recently to be eyeing CBS in what would be a blockbuster deal. Top-level executives from Verizon met with analysts this week, though, and they made it clear they don’t plan to try to duplicate AT&T’s strategy of spending tens of billions to buy video content and distribution companies.

“Following AT&T’s (proposed) acquisition of Time Warner and recent press reports, CEO Lowell McAdam noted the company does not need to acquire a large content provider,” Barclays analysts wrote in a research note. “Management is pleased with the progress of AOL (revenue up 10 percent), and indicated that the company was taking a patient approach with recent investments, including Go90, Fleetmatics, and smart city initiatives. No update was provided on Yahoo as the investigation into the security breach continues.”

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Verizon bought AOL for $4.4 billion, and it indeed it may soon finalize its $4.83 billion deal to acquire Yahoo. Meanwhile, the telco recently bought the web-video startup Vessel for an undisclosed sum, and it continues to pursue Go90, an OTT video offering aimed at young mobile users.  

Those moves contrast starkly with AT&T’s strategy of making blockbuster deals to buy major media companies. The carrier recently launched DirecTV Now, an ambitious OTT offering built on last year’s $49 billion acquisition of the satellite TV provider, and it hopes to double down on that strategy with its proposed $85 billion takeover of Time Warner.

Both of the nation’s two largest carriers are moving to expand their businesses as growth in the U.S. smartphone market plateaus. Verizon isn’t betting as heavily on media as its top rival is, the carrier continues to invest heavily in infrastructure as it prepares to deploy 5G services and technologies.

“While we acknowledge the quick pitch on Verizon has been a bit muddled of late (negative phone adds, Yahoo issues, no unlimited offering), it is clear to us this team is not sitting around playing tiddlywinks,” Jennifer Fritzsche of Wells Fargo Securities wrote. “Verizon is indeed taking a very different path than its nearest competitor (AT&T). We get the sense there is more going on with the forward-looking strategy than meets the eye. We believe this centers more around fiber and other scale-building deals than content or media. Like AT&T in 2016, we believe 2017 may be a game-changing year for Verizon.”

And that “scale-building” may be likely to include more deals like Verizon’s $1.8 billion acquisition of XO Communications, Fritzsche predicted.

“We do not sense buying a media/content company is in any way part of (Verizon’s) plan,” she wrote. “We can’t help but wonder if Verizon’s fiber strategy involves more than XO. We would not be surprised if Verizon pursues other (likely bigger) fiber acquisitions in 2017 as it would be in line with comments about building scale in key verticals.”

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